Almost at the start line

It’s been a long struggle…I started grad school in 2013, taking classes via distance education after work hours. Weekdays were generally the following routine: wake up early to beat traffic to work, work all day, come home after an hour in traffic, get the kids in squared away with homework and baths, and then around 9 PM start working on coursework, finally falling into bed past midnight. My weekends were spent doing homework and course projects for most of the time.

I graduated in May this year, I’m finally done with the program. The last semester, which I had hoped would not be so bad, was the hardest of them all. Part of it was a personal struggle with trying to keep up the motivation. The other part was that the course project was a project from hell, a team project with a useless team member, and in the end we still had to do his work for him. Enough of that though, I don’t want to think back on it any further. I pushed through it all, and I have finished. I truly worked hard to earn my newly minted Master’s of Science in Electrical Engineering. So what does it get me? Nothing actually, no bonus at work, no impact on my job at all, and probably at the end of the day will not matter too much if I try to change jobs either. It does leave the option for me of going for a Ph.D. (another subject of discussion), but for now I just have the satisfaction that I learned an incredible amount of information, I updated my engineering skills, and strengthened my math skills which had rusted from lack of use in industry. It is bitter sweet, a personal struggle that existed mostly in my head, but often spilled over onto the family. They were super tough for hanging in there with me, and I am grateful for that.

It is fitting that I’m in the project from hell at work right now and am working 12+ hours a day for now. But come July 28th, it is all over with one way or another. I get my freedom back, from school and from work. What will it be like to have a life again? What will it be like to not have to do anything in the evenings? Yes the house will scream for attention by constantly presenting me with a list of things to fix, but I’m not going to let that take my life over. I’m not going to be that guy…for now.  I need some time for myself and the family.

Those four years of life working full-time and going to school at night have taken a toll on my health though. Stress was the biggest factor, but also weight gain. I gained weight between sitting all day at work and then sitting all evening and into the night. I was very jealous in the evenings to see people walking and jogging along side-walks as I sat in traffic and kept thinking about the struggles at the office as well as the work to do in the evening for grad school. Now it is my time to repair the damage to my health from grad school and work.

There are going to be many distractions, such as trying to keep up my technical skills, as well as family responsibilities, various things to fix around the house, and part of me just wanting to sit and do nothing. So here is what I propose:

  1. Walk…walk like a madman
  2. Play tennis once a week
  3. Hike at least twice a month on the regional trails–I really want to do this!

Long Term Goals

  1. Develop a proper tennis serve
  2. Hike a mountain trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains
  3. Get the weight to a stable target

It won’t be easy, there will be many obstacles, but I want this.


My daughter’s 12-inch bicycle had a flat recently. I do not know what she did actually, because it looks like she wore a hole in the tire itself that is 3 centimeters long and a centimeter across!  The front tire is in decent condition, but might as well change it too.  I looked into the cost of repairing the bike: $12 per tire, $6 per bike tube, plus taxes and shipping because the local shops did not carry white wheels which match her pink bike. I also looked at the cost of a new bike too: $49.99 for a Disney Frozen bicycle with training wheels. She likes her bike though, so I thought I would try to fix it.

Thinking I could fix it was the first mistake.  When putting in the new tube and tire on her front wheel, it seems I punctured the brand new inner tube somehow.  The wheel deflates in under a minute! I suppose along with the parts I probably needed to order some sort of special bicycle tire repair kit along with it.  So now I am out $40 on bike parts, an hour of my precious time off from work, and I am now heading to the store today or tomorrow and am just going to buy a new damn bike.

Wasteful? Yes. However I am out an hour of my life and $40 of my hard earned money at this point.  To get another bike tube, buy the right plastic tools, pull off the tire I just put on today, redo the job, and then still do the back tire….well, that is going to cost me more than just buying a new damn bicycle. That hour of my time is a big deal to as I have a long list of stuff to repair in the house. I would have been better off just picking up the $49.99 bicycle on the way home from work.

What a time and place I live in where its just easier to dispose and buy new rather than fixing something. It makes me feel really guilty, yet I just do not have the time to waste. Of course I wasted more time by writing this rant…but I boiling over right now and need to rant.

Northern California 2012

I took a trip to Silicon Valley this year, and in my free time between work, I managed a brief trip to Pacifica to see the Pacific Ocean. I have see the Pacific from the shores of Japan in Chiba and Yokohama prefectures, but never before from the US.  Pacifica is about an hour east of San Jose, just south of Dale City, and just over the “hill” to the east of SFO airport.


Words cannot describe the beauty of the Pacific coast


Blue sky, blue water, jagged rocks


Wait a minute, is that a trail?  I bet the view is better up there!


Why yes, it is a trail, and that looks easy!  Just cross the stream and walk on up.


OK, this might be harder than I thought.  I was wearing casual business shoes with NO GRIP.


The view from the top was worth it though!



Looking back to the land, there were no tall trees like one would find on the Atlantic coast, and lots of dry grass and land.  The trail in the center left had quite a few runners too.  There was no way down on this side of the hill though, so I had to go back the way I came, and it was a lot harder than going up.  It consisted of a controlled slide down the steep rocky portions, and a careful controlled walk on the dirt parts of the path.  Some shoes with some grip would have seriously helped.


I had worked up an appetite, so after I had taken in the views, I headed back to San Jose for something to eat.  I stopped in Ramen Halu and tried their つけ麺 (tsukemen – cold ramen noodles dipped in soup).  The noodles and the soup were great, and the portions were large.  The only disappointing part of the meal was the thin char siu meat, but oh well.

It turned out this part of San Jose was like a little Tokyo, with a Kinokuniya book store and a Mitsuwa grocery store.  I picked up some study books for the JLPT at Kinokuniya, though I failed to find anything interesting for my son for learning hiragana.  I then picked up some basic supplies for my wife at Mitsuwa for the return trip.  It was only around 19:00 PST, but to my body it was 22:00 EST, so I headed back to the hotel to iron my shirt and get some sleep for the next day of work.  Pathetic, no?  I must be getting old.  But seeing the ocean, having a good hike, and finishing it off with a great meal simply made my day.  No need for anything else!

2012 in Review

I can honestly say that 2012 was the busiest and fastest pace year of my life. I reckon that life will only get busier. Since this blog is primarily a journal for me too look back on, I thought I’d throw up some pictures to remind myself of the year that went by.


Good-bye, Charleston, South Carolina. It was interesting. I miss the pink an auburn sunsets, the spanish moss, and walking along the Wando river.  We moved to Northern Virginia in early February


View from Arlington National Cemetery – Lincoln memory at the end of the bridge, and of course the iconic Washington monument to the right


Walking in the streets of Annapolis, MD.  Go Navy!


Air show – F/A 18 Hornet – my favorite jet as a kid growing up.  The F-22 demonstration though sure made these planes look a lot less impressive


Air show – what happens when a prop plane and blimp…?  I suppose this aircraft was used for zero-gravity testing and training?


Teaching my son the fine craft of prepping and grilling bbq – the Korean grocery marts have excellent cuts of ribs at great prices.  In the warmer months I was preparing ribs once a month!


Grilled pork satay


烏賊 (squid) on the grill


Great Falls on the Potomic


Mule ride at Great Falls Park


Our tour guide – he was full of great information about this history and lives of the people working the canal, and the impacts of rail road development on the canal


Eden Center – an entire shopping center full of Vietnamese shops, such as food, entertainment, beauty, travel, and grocer shops.  Notice the South Vietnamese flags.



Bahn mi – liver pate and head cheese and hot peppers – delicious!


Autumn colors


View from the Northern Shenandoah Skyline Drive




Downtown Leesburg, VA – quaint and pleasant town to visit when you want to get away from the bustle of modern life.  There are quite a few coffee shops and pubs along the main street


Part of the Christmas Parade in Leesburg, VA


State House in Raleigh, NC – spent the time after Christmas and before the New Year in the Research Triangle Area of NC this year.

Hopefully 2013 will be an easier year with more time to enjoy the little things.

Chicago 2011

I meant to post these photos last year, but 2012 got away from me and I never found the time to work on this blog.  So I was in Chicago for a job interview–I did not get the job–and though I was in the Chicago for less than twenty-four hours, I still enjoyed it.  Most of what I saw was from riding the L-train from Chicago O’Hare to and from downtown, and then walking around downtown the night before and the morning of the interview.

Chicago has this old feeling to it that I immediately came to appreciate and long for.  As the train dashed down the tracks I could see all of the old brick housing, built closely together and looking to be pre-World War II in construction.  There were lots of decks built onto the rear such housing, usually on the second or third level of the buildings.  Perhaps there are parts of the city where there are shiny new things, but I hope I don’t see them.  I like the small, old brick buildings packed so tightly together.  I like to imagine myself living in one of the units.  Shame I don’t have any photos, but it was too dark outside and the training was moving too fast for my mobile phone camera.

Forgive the mobile phone camera shots…one of these days I’ll be able to get a digital SLR.


The L train runs above ground, and it curves around in a loop downtown and  at times it appears the train is just inches away from buildings when making a turn.  And yes, you can see into office buildings.  The metal tracking running throughout the downtown area gives the city an industrial feel that I do not know how to explain…


You have to hike up the stairs to get to an L station, and I was surprised by the mix of heavy metal for the tracks, and then wood for the walking areas for passengers.  It just adds to this old, industrial feel that I had when I was in the city.


A wooden platform, and there are booths on the platform with three glass walls and a heating element inside to help keep you warm in the strong Chicago wind during the winter.


The former Sears Tower, now called the Willis Tower


Hard to see in this smaller picture, but there were gargoyles and demons atop quite a few buildings.  You are being watched…


The Chicago Stock Exchange…which no longer operates, but has let out the trading floor and offices to private companies t operate their businesses out of.

In the end I did not get the job; I did not quite have the skill-set that the potential employer was looking for.  I am still glad I got to the opportunity to interview with the company, see the interesting work they are doing, and also a chance to see a bit of Chicago.  In the future I would certainly consider another opportunity in Chicago, and I’d certainly entertain the opportunity to live in the neighborhoods of Chicago (versus the ‘burbs like Aurora).  I love the old feel to the city and I think that the old feel and grittiness is a part of what makes Chicago unique from other North American cities.

And you certainly cannot beat the great public transportation!  I was surprised to find that many interviewees at the company took a taxi from the airport to the hotel, rather than using the L system and hiking a few blocks to the hotel.  Oh well though, their loss in my opinion.

Sometimes I do feel like this

For your interpretation.


Transient? Advanced aging due to a life lost in traffic? It could be all.

Welcome 2013

2013 has arrived.  I fell asleep in a chair around 23:00, but my wife woke me up around 23:45 to welcome in the new year.  I had to rise at 05:00 on December 31st to get into work early, and I just ran out of fuel around 23:00.  I just cannot stay up late like I used to do.  All of my energy goes to my work and to trying to raise the kids, just don’t have much energy at the end of a long day to stay up to watch a ball fall from above or Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffen putz around on the tube.  To think just five years ago I stayed up all night and talked and played card games with friends.  I managed to stay wake for the new year to arrive, but I fell asleep again shortly after 00:30.  Oh well.

For dinner on New Year’s Eve, I prepared 年越し蕎麦 (New Year Arrival Buckwheat noodles, or New Year Arrival Soba).  I could have bought the regular dried noodles imported from Japan, but since I live in little Korea, I thought I’d try to find fresh noodles–they just taste better.  I cannot read Korean, but in the Korean market I found one huge package of noodles with the Korean text and “Soba” in parenthesis.  I compared the Korean lettering on that package with that of the smaller packages, and I managed to take home some fresh Soba.  We noticed that Korean soba is much more brown than the Japanese equivalent.  My wife inspected the ingredients (listed in English due to FDA regulations), and we found that in Korean soba regular wheat is added to the buckwheat, which accounts for the darker color.  Regardless though, the noodles were very tasty, and we sent off the year with ざる蕎麦  (Cold Soba dipped in soup) and a spinach salad.  If you like Soba, Korean soba is damn good too.  We’ll have to buy it more often.

After dinner we watched the NHK Red & White festival listening to all of the different types of music and dancing: J-pop, 演歌 (Enka), and all of the other odd forms of Japanese pop-culture.  We moved from Japan more than three years ago, and I have not really watched any mainstream Japanese TV since moving away.  I still find myself missing Japan…but then I think back to how much time I had to spend at work in that country, and the thought of moving back to Japan fades out of my mind.  Any way, I could still recognize many of the actors, actresses, singers, etc.  These past three years have felt like an eternity to me, but in reality not much time has passed.  Where do the days go?

2012…what a year.  We had quite a few setbacks this past year, but at the same time I have a job now with real career potential, and I now have a precious daughter.  Of course, even at six months of age, she challenges me on everything, perhaps an omen for the future?  I find myself really wanting to buy some land and not having to move for awhile.  I don’t want a big house, but I want some land and a small house.  But here in the Washington Metro Area, I find that to be a pipe dream.  I want to put down a small garden and grow some green vegetables, but reality says I’ll be renting for the next decade at least and trying to grow some vegetables in flower pots.  At least it is a goal to work towards though.

2013 is going to be a big year–it has to be.  I have a lot to do, and I must do it and accomplish it all.  Failure is not an option this year.  I like odd numbered years, which I find to be more easy going than the even numbered years, so here is to hoping for a good year!  Happy New (Calendar) Year to all!!!

Election Oddities

Election season is finally over!  Unlike in the past, I did try to keep up with the election this year.  I watched all three presidential debates as well as the vice-presidential debate.  I followed stories in the Washington Post as well.  I even stood on queue for an hour to cast my ballot on November Sixth.  I am glad it is over and done with, and I am very thankful that Rick Perry is not the president.  He sure was popular in Charleston while I was living there, but at least the primary voters bumped him during the primary.  I suppose now we have the budget issues to look forward to…more brinkmanship on the horizon!

So I had some interesting mail back in mid-October.  I was a registered independent in SC, and when I registered to vote in Virginia, there was not even an option on the form.  I am just stating this to make it clear that I am not (knowingly) on a registrar of any conservative or liberal groups.  In mid-October, about a week after I submitted my own voter registration application, I received an odd notice in the mail from Americans for Limited Government. I was very curious about this notice, not because of the sender, but because of the red lettering in all capital letters “VOTE HISTORY AUDIT ENCLOSED“.  I was curious, very curious.

Upon opening the notice, I found the vote history audit and an application for voter registration.  There were not any overt political messages thankfully, but the message was encouraging me to register for the vote and be active in civic participation.  Nothing wrong with that.  The vote history audit, however, was rather creepy.  It did not show for whom I cast my ballot, but it had columns for 2004, 2008 and 2012.  It correctly showed that I did not vote in 2004–because I did not request my overseas absentee ballot in time–and that I did cast my vote in 2008.  For 2012, it was marked pending.  Even weirder though, where the names of six other voters with street addresses around my parents’ home.  While living overseas, my parents’ address was the address I used with the US Govt.  My parents’ next door neighbor, whose name I immediately recognized, also had his voting history in the audit.

I suppose voting attendance in and of itself is public information, but it felt a bit creepy to have what appears to be a conservative group sending out information to others about my voting attendance record.  I probably would not have blinked had my parents’ neighbors vote attendance history not been included in the notice.  The notice concluded saying that after elections the group would be sending an updated vote history audit to myself and my neighbors. Perhaps there was a hidden message, such as nag your neighbors to go out and vote?

My wife’s notebook PC recently died on us (luckily we had backups!) so we went shopping for a new computer.  We considered tablets, but in the end we ended up going with an ultrabook (thin notebook PC).  We had a coupon for the Microsoft store, and in the end I think we got a rather good deal.  If only we had a student in the house, we could have received an xbox for free…not that I ever have the time to play any games.

We had considered ordering a laptop from Japan so that it would come with the Japanese version of Windows and a Japanese keyboard.  But doing so was out of our budget, and instead we decided to buy a US laptop and just use the Japanese IME from Microsoft.

After a few days now, my wife is frustrated with the American English keyboard layout, just as I was when I lived in Japan and had to search hard for the quote mark key and the “@” mark on a Japanese keyboard.  With time though, that annoyance goes away as you modify your muscle memory.  To make her computer more Japan-like, I configured the tilde or accent grave key as the language switching key in the top-left corner of a Japanese keyboard.  I could not completely make it Japan-like, however, due to a lazy Microsoft design flaw.

Windows 7 has a major flaw that does not appear fixable.  When switching to the Japanese IME, even if you have set “Hiragana” mode as the default, the IME always starts in Direct Input English mode.  After much searching, a Microsoft support rep appears to have said, in summary, that it will only revert to Hiragana mode if you have a Japanese keyboard, and there is no fix for this.  This is highly frustrating for anyone who has to switch between English and Japanese input.  Prior versions of Windows did not have this issue (e.g. Vista, XP).

The alternative appears to be setting non-unicode language default of the computer to Japanese, and then installing ATOK, the widely popular Japanese IME program in Japan.  Hopefully this issue will be fixed in Windows 8 when it comes out (we have an upgrade coupon for that) if ATOK does not work.

Every once in awhile I wonder if I ought to get off of Apple platforms and go back to Microsoft, especially because Apple computers cost about 33% more than Windows computers.  Also, Apple’s drive to sell software through AppStore also is a bit unnerving.  I like to direct download from the vendor, or better yet, have a CD or DVD with the software on it.  Yet issues like the one described above remind me of why I enjoy my MacBook–things just work.  I have had my MacBook for 4 years now, and though it runs slower with the new apps, it is still usable for me.  My previous computer, and Apple iBook, lasted 5.5 years.  So while Apple products may cost more than a PC, I have had good luck with getting a long life out of them.  Perhaps I have just been lucky though?  We shall see where this AppStore thing goes, and whether or not Microsoft decides to follow the idea…

Cars and white shirts

I had a real “American” day today, meaning that I worked on my car while also working on a cheap American beer (Coors Light, just 102 cal for 12 oz).  If only I were buff, I could star in a TV commercial.

While recently driving to work one morning before the sun had risen, I realized that my driver-side low-bean headlight was out.  I inquired with Honda about having the bulbs replaced, and they recommended to replace both low-beam headlights at the same time, and for US $50 each with labor included.  Nice idea on doing both lights at the same time, but not so nice on the price.  Instead I went to an auto parts store a picked up a set of bulbs for US $30, supposedly brighter than the default factory installed lights.  We shall see…

Before starting, I checked the manual that Honda included with the car.  It took about 15 minutes in the end to replace the bulbs, and I had to add an extra step that Honda did not mention:

  1. Rotate the tires so that you have access to the front part of the wheel area
  2. Remove the two plastic tabs holding the plastic boot to the body of the car
  3. Pull back the plastic boot, and the headlight bulb and connector should be visible
  4. Loosen the screws surrounding the connector (two out of three will do) — Honda did not mention this!  Simply trying to turn the connector in the socket will not work
  5. Turn the bulb and connecter counter-clockwise until it pops out
  6. Replace the dead bulb with a new bulb, being careful not to touch the bulb with your hands (I pair of non-slip rubber cloves can be obtained for $5 or less)
  7. Put the connector back into the socket, turn it clockwise until it fits snugly, and then tighten the screws loosened earlier
  8. Push the boot back into the body and attach the plastics tabs removed earlier
All in all, an easy enough task.  I have to remember to do a general check-up on the car this summer.  I bought it last June, and for the simple things I can replace, I really should…it is tough sticking to a budget.  Having left South Carolina back in February, I also got around to attaching a front bumper license plate holder.  Like many states in the Southeast, South Carolina only requires a license plate on the rear of the car.  When I re-title the car here, I’ll need both front and rear license plates.

Of relative non-importantness, I am in a job now where I should–in other words, must–where a necktie, so Sundays are usually when I make time to iron my work shirts.  Yes, I know, I probably should enlist the services of a dry cleaner.  I may do so one day.  I need to do a cost-analysis of time versus expense, and I also need a larger wardrobe so that I have enough shirts to cover the outage time.  For now though, I am my own launderer.  I hate to say it, but I do kind of miss the 作業着 (sagyogi – work clothes) that I wore at that very first job just out of college in Sakado…so much more comfortable than a tie around the neck.  Oh well though, moving up in life I suppose.

To get to the point though, I was astonished today when I went to the market to try to purchase some starch.  I have two shirts that I really like, but even after damp ironing they still wrinkle.  I need the power of starch to keep them looking sharp.  Unfortunately, there was no liquid starch, and I was left with only spray-on starch.  I suppose it will work, but I have read about staining with the sprays.  Will report back on how that spray starch works.

End of the day.  I’ve got some pork belly in a sweet and sour sauce in the pressure cooker that I am looking forward to.  Mad Men is on TV tonight too, that would be a nice way to finish off the weekend.  I should be listening to some Chinese recordings or reading some Chinese, but I’m not much in the mood for anything that requires thought.  It looks like the pleasant, cool spring weather will be replaced with 30*C weather.  As long as the humidity does not accompany it, I will be happy.

I need to get back into the blogging routine…